Sep 30, 2020

Updated Fee Schedule

On August 22, 2012, we announced in the Federal Register a schedule of standard administrative fees we charge to the public. We charge these fees to recover our full costs when we provide information and related services for non-program purposes. We are announcing an update to the previously published schedule of standard administrative fees. The updated standard fee schedule is part of our continued effort to standardize fees for non-program information requests. ...  

Based on the most recent cost analysis, the following table provides the new schedule of standard administrative fees per request:  

  • Copying an Electronic Folder: $41.  
  • Copying a Paper Folder: $83. 
  •  Regional Office Certification7: $64.  
  • Record Extract: $34.  
  • Third Party Manual SSN Verification: $36.  
  • Office of Central Operations Certification: $30.  
  • W–2/W–3 Requests: $90.  
  • Form SSA–7050, Request for Social Security Earning Information: $92.  
  • Requests for Copy of Original Form SS–5, Application for a Social Security Card: $21.
  • Requests for Copy of Numident Record (Computer Extract of the SS–5): $20...

     If they can update this, why can't they update the cap on how much attorneys can charge claimants for representation before the agency?

Who Won The Debate?

 

find bike trails

Sep 29, 2020

Some Video Hearing Information

     I had a telephone call yesterday with Sheila Lowther, the Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge for the Social Security’s Region IV, concerning video hearings. She agreed for me to post what she was saying on this blog. I hope this information is also going out through internal channels, I'm happy to provide the information but Social Security employees shouldn't have to hear it from me.

    Social Security is starting to roll out video hearings on a limited basis. They’re looking for critical need cases where the claimant has declined a telephone hearing. They're starting with Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judges. I told her that in critical cases I’ve been strongly advising my clients to accept telephone hearings so there would be no delay. That means that I won’t have any cases for video hearings unless I start declining telephone hearings for critical cases which I'm reluctant to do because I have no guarantee of a video hearing in the near future. I expect that most Social Security attorneys would be in the same boat. She said they will use the Microsoft Teams platform and that it will work from any device. I was assured that they will have enough bandwidth for this. This has been a concern for me and others. There's a noticeable decline in audio quality when additional callers are added to the telephone hearings they’re doing now suggesting to me that even this old technology might strain Social Security's systems. I hope that that issue has nothing to do with bandwidth. Judge Lowther indicated that they want to fully roll this out as soon as possible but she didn’t predict when that might be. 

     By the way, it seemed important to Judge Lowther that Administrative Law Judges will appear against an artificially generated backdrop approximating one of the agency’s hearing rooms. I suppose that may be important to ALJs but it really doesn’t matter to me. My job is to pay no attention to such things and to concentrate on the substance of what’s happening.

Presidential Debate Poll

 

bike tracks

Sep 28, 2020

Suspending Benefits With No Explanation Other Than "Miscellaneous" For An Average Of 36 Months With No Controls In Place


      From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):

... When SSA employees suspend benefits, they identify the issue that needs to be resolved by inputting one of dozens of situation-specific suspense codes to the beneficiary’s record. Employees can also use the generic “miscellaneous suspense” code if they do not identify the issue that requires resolution.  

To resolve benefit suspensions, employees complete follow-up actions, which include contacting beneficiaries, employers, or other agencies to obtain information. Once the employee obtains the necessary information, he/she must determine whether to pay the benefits withheld for prior months and whether to resume monthly benefits.From 1 segment of the Master Beneficiary Record, we identified 2,525 beneficiaries for whom SSA suspended OASDI benefits between January 2015 and December 2018 using the miscellaneous suspense code.We reviewed records for 100 randomly selected beneficiaries.

As of February 2020, SSA had not completed follow-up actions to resolve issues that caused it to withhold benefits using the miscellaneous suspense code for 41 of the 100 beneficiaries. As a result, SSA withheld almost $748,000 from these beneficiaries. ...

We project SSA withheld approximately $378 million from almost 21,000 beneficiaries without resolving the issues that caused the benefit suspensions.

SSA does not have controls to monitor beneficiaries in miscellaneous suspense status or an oversight process to ensure employees use the miscellaneous suspense code appropriately. SSA relies on the employee who suspended benefits to create his/her own reminder to take future resolution actions. For these 41 beneficiaries, this process did not ensure SSA completed necessary actions to resolve outstanding issues. ...

On average, SSA withheld benefits for 36 months and will continue withholding benefits from these beneficiaries until it resolves the suspensions. ...

The high rate of unresolved benefit suspension cases we identified is evidence that SSA’s current system of manual reminders is not a reliable control to ensure it resolves miscellaneous benefit suspensions. SSA needs controls, such as systems alerts and management reports, to identify beneficiaries in miscellaneous suspense status and ensure employees take corrective actions timely. ... 

     I've had plenty of clients in this situation. It seems to take a dozen complaints over several months before anyone does something. Social Security agreed with OIG that they need to do something about this situation. Let's hope that doing something doesn't go in their "miscellaneous" file.

Sep 27, 2020

Abolish The Marriage Penalties


      Should marriage be discouraged? There may be a few who have had sad experiences with marriage who would answer that question “yes” but I think that most would say, to the contrary, that marriage should be encouraged. So, why does Social Security have provisions that punish people for getting married? Why do I as an attorney who represents Social Security clients have to warn people about the negative consequences of marriage? Social Security may not be the sole reason but disabled people are much less likely to marry than healthy people. That’s not a good thing for the disabled people or society in general.

     Here are those punitive provisions:

  • In most cases people drawing disabled adult child benefits lose all benefits if they marry.
  • Two disabled people drawing SSI get less money as a married couple than if they just “live in sin.”
  • A disabled person drawing SSI can continue to receive SSI if they “live in sin” with a person who is working full time but loses benefits if they get married.

Sep 26, 2020

Where It Started

 



Sep 25, 2020

Sounds Trumpy

      From a POMS Transmittal Sheet:

... The Social Security Administration (SSA) disbanded the Office of International Programs, which was responsible for negotiating and implementing bilateral Social Security agreements, and merged the office into various components throughout SSA Headquarters. SSA transferred the certificate of coverage workload to the Office of Central Operations, Office of Earnings and International Operations. The Office of Data Exchange and Policy Publication absorbed the totalization negotiation and implementation workloads and was renamed the Office of Data Exchange, Policy Publications, and International Negotiations (ODEPPIN). ...
     Many people have work careers that span more than one country. Preventing situations where such people end up without social security benefits in any country is important to all nations. Many American companies have employees overseas. Many overseas companies have employees in the United States.  Avoiding double taxation of wages for social security is important to all nations. All of this will become more and more important as time goes along. "America First" only gets you so far. We need more bilateral social security agreements. We're lacking agreements with Mexico, India, Argentina, the Philippines and Israel, to name just a few countries. This isn't about giving anyone, especially foreign nationals, special benefits. It's basic equity for Americans who spend part of their employment careers working outside the U.S. and for American companies who do business overseas.

Sep 24, 2020

Today's Congressional Hearing

      Here's info on today's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee:

What:

Social Security Subcommittee Hearing entitled  

Save Our Social Security Now”

When:

1:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 24, 2020

Where:

This hearing will take place remotely via Cisco Webex 

video conferencing.

Watch:

Livestream of the hearing can be viewed via live webcast accessible 

at the Ways and Means Committee’s website. The webcast will not 

be available until the hearing begins. 

 Witnesses:

PANEL 1

  • The Honorable Ron Wyden (D-OR)

PANEL 2

  • The Honorable Danny K. Davis (D-IL)
  • The Honorable Linda S├ínchez (D-CA)
  • The Honorable Judy Chu (D-CA)
  • The Honorable Don Beyer (D-VA)

PANEL 3

  • Nancy J. Altman, President of Social Security Works
  • Will Goodwin, U.S. Army Veteran and the Director of Government Relations for VoteVets 
  • Amy Matsui, Director of Income Security and Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center
  • Janice Dean, New York, New York
  • Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
  • Robert Roach, President of the Alliance for Retired Americans

Sep 23, 2020

Chiropractors Charged In Disability Fraud Scheme

      From a press release:

Dr. Thomas Hobbs and Dr. Vivian Carbone-Hobbs of Jefferson County were indicted with two members of their office staff, a former union representative of Anheuser-Busch In Bev, and five patients with conspiring to fraudulently obtain disability benefits from the Social Security Administration...

 According to the indictment, the defendants exaggerated the patients’ medical conditions and ability to care for themselves in order to qualify for the government disability benefits and the private insurance disability payments. The chiropractors also required their patients to undergo excessive medical treatments and diagnostic evaluations beyond what was medically necessary to pad their medical records....

Beginning as early as 2011, AB In-Bev employees sought the chiropractors’ assistance because it permitted them to fraudulently obtain Social Security disability insurance benefit payments, a long-term disability insurance payment of $100,000.00 from Prudential Insurance Companies, and long-term and short-term disability benefits through Met-Life. In exchange, his patients paid him as much as $3,000.00 for each of the types of disability payments they were seeking in addition to insurance payments he collected from Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Health Care and payment for unreimbursed services from the patients.

The losses resulting from the false and fraudulent statements to the Social Security Administration and the private insurance disability providers exceeded $12,000,000. ...


Sep 22, 2020

Another Report On Rep Payees


     The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has released a study it commissioned on representative payees at Social Security. Rep payees handle money for beneficiaries who are unable to handle it for themselves. Most often a rep payee is a grown child or other close relative who handles the money responsibly but improper or illegal conduct by rep payees isn't as rare as anyone would like. The study is fine although its first recommendation, more studies, is part of the tradition of scholars making such self-serving recommendations when they do research for the federal government.

     Unfortunately, there are three underlying problems with rep payees that no one seems to be able to do anything about:

  • There are some claimants who don't have anyone close to them who is willing to be rep payee. If some stranger is going to have to do it and do it right, it's going to cost real money but taking more than a nominal sum out of the benefits will leave some claimants without enough money to live on.
  • There are temptations for rep payees. Some will give in to the temptation and steal from the person whose money they're supposed to be handling. There's no way to completely prevent this. There's not even a clear path to reducing it. Detecting it after it happens is difficult.
  • Overseeing rep payees is a difficult job. Even with adequate staffing at Social Security there will always be problems but Social Security lacks the manpower to do a lot of things, including effectively overseeing rep payees. That's because agency appropriations are too low, like, maybe, two billion dollars a year too low. One political party tries hard to keep the Social Security Administration underfunded for reasons that go well beyond rep payees.

Sep 21, 2020

Am I Spoiling The Soft Rollout?

      A friend just stumbled upon the fact that Social Security's ERE online system for attorneys and others representing claimants now allows access to their clients' files pending at the initial and reconsideration levels. Who know how long this may have been available but no one knew? I guess they were planning to make an announcement eventually.

     Unlike at the hearing and Appeals Council levels, there's no way yet of accessing a list of cases pending at initial and reconsideration but this is still a step forward.

New Dismissal Procedures

      From the Social Security Administration:

... On August 31, 2020, we provided guidance to hearings offices that administrative law judges may resume issuing dismissals for late-filing of a hearing or failure to appear at a hearing.

To ensure hearing offices are appropriately issuing these types of dismissals (late filing or failure to appear at a hearing), hearing offices will now develop the record for good cause by issuing a Request to Show Cause for Late Filing or Failure to Appear notice. 

This added step provides one more opportunity, beyond our COVID-19 emergency procedures, for claimants to provide good cause for failure to meet filing deadlines or to appear at their telephone hearings.  In addition to this added step for late-filing/failure-to-appear dismissals, we have temporarily expanded our traditional in-line quality reviews of hearing dispositions to focus on ensuring that dismissals are policy-compliant.  ...


Sep 20, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Former Social Security Employee

      From the History Channel:

... Ruth Bader married Martin David Ginsburg, whom she had met at Cornell, shortly after receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1954. She had her first child, Jane, in 1955. At the time, she worked at a Social Security office in Lawton, Oklahoma, near where her husband, who was in the U.S. Army, had been posted. She had been rated for a GS-5 job, but when she mentioned she was pregnant, she was given a GS-2 job as a typist. It was her first experience with on-the-job discrimination because of her gender. While working in the Social Security office, she also became aware of how hard it was for Native Americans to receive Social Security. Both forms of discrimination stuck with her and helped form the basis of her future career. ...

The RECAP Project

     Thousands of Social Security cases end up being appealed to the federal courts every year. One annoying aspect of practicing in the federal courts is the costs charged for the PACER system. It's the system for online access to court records. With PACER you often have to pay to get access to public records. My gut feeling is that this is wrong.
     Recently, I've discovered a worthy project to try to alleviate the PACER monopoly at least a little and Social Security attorneys can participate:

RECAP Project — Turning PACER Around Since 2009

RECAP is an online archive and free extension for Firefox and Chrome that improves the experience of using PACER, the electronic public access system for the U.S. Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts.

If you use PACER, install RECAP. Once installed, every docket or PDF you purchase on PACER will be added to the RECAP Archive. Anything somebody else has added to the archive will be available to you for free — right in PACER itself. ...

The Archives and APIs

Thanks to our users and our data consulting projects, the RECAP Archive contains tens of millions of PACER documents, including every free opinion in PACER. Everything in the archive is fully searchable, including millions of pages that were originally scanned PDFs.

Everything that is in the RECAP Archive is also regularly uploaded to the Internet Archive, where it has a lasting home. This amounts to thousands of liberated documents daily. ...


Sep 19, 2020

1.3% COLA?


      From CNBC:

... The Senior Citizens League is a nonpartisan advocacy group for older Americans and has a history of accurately forecasting the annual change. The group estimates that the Social Security COLA for 2021 could be about 1.3%.

That is less than the 1.6% adjustment made for 2020 and one of the lowest increases Social Security has ever had. ...

Sep 18, 2020

RIP RBG

 


    From the Los Angeles Times:

... Ginsburg became a counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, and by 1972 led its Women’s Rights Project. She set out to change the court’s view of gender bias and its impact on women and men.

n. She did not rely on grand pronouncements about inequality or take on hot controversies such as abortion. Instead, she planned a careful, step-by-step approach to undercut sexist laws. She pressed a series of seemingly minor cases — often on behalf of men — that demonstrated gender discrimination hurt both men and women.

For example, the Social Security Administration at the time paid a survivor’s benefit to a widow after her husband died, but not to a widower whose wife had died. This might have been seen, at first glance, as a gender preference in favor of women. Ginsburg did not think so. When Stephen Wiesenfeld’s wife died during childbirth in 1972, he had to raise his son alone, and sued to obtain a survivor’s benefit from Social Security.

Ginsburg took the Wiesenfeld case to the Supreme Court and won a unanimous decision in 1975 holding this discrimination against widowers was unconstitutional. It was unfair to the surviving husband, but it was also unfair to the wife who had paid Social Security taxes at the same rate as men, but could not pass on the benefit to her surviving family. And it was unfair to their baby, who needed all the support his widowed father could obtain. ...

Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

      A press release:

House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson announced today that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled “Save Our Social Security Now,” on Thursday, September 24, at 1:00 PM EDT.

This hearing will take place remotely via Cisco Webex video conferencing. Members of the public may view the hearing via live webcast accessible at the Ways and Means Committee’s website. The webcast will not be available until the hearing begins.

What:

Social Security Subcommittee Hearing entitled Save Our Social Security Now”

When:

1:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 24, 2020

Where:

This hearing will take place remotely via Cisco Webex video conferencing.

Watch:

Livestream of the hearing can be viewed via live webcast accessible at the Ways and Means Committee’s website. The webcast will not be available until the hearing begins. 

Expect Disability Claims And Expect That Social Security Will Turn Them Down


      From The City:

The illness was supposed to last for three weeks, doctors told her.

But weeks four through six of COVID-19 were the worst for Holly MacDonald. Her low-grade fever morphed into an all-around fatigue. She began having trouble speaking.

And when she stood up, her legs and feet turned purple.

“I’d walk too far and then I’d need to be in bed for three days,” said MacDonald, who is 29 and lives in Crown Heights. She had to take administrative leave from her job at a nonprofit where she builds social-media campaigns.

A month after getting sick in early March, MacDonald was back in the ER, frustrated as she tried to convince her doctors she was mired in her second month of what, she’d been told, was a three-week respiratory virus.

She’s still not fully recovered. MacDonald is one of upwards of 70,000 New Yorkers struggling with unexplained long-term symptoms of COVID-19, according to a range of estimates provided by several New York City-area doctors and hospitals contacted by THE CITY.

“The hidden number could be more,” said Dr. Zijian Chen, who directs Mount Sinai’s Center for Post-COVID Care. “We’re looking at patients who are still testing positive day to day, so this is a population that’s going to continue to grow.” ...

In some cases, patients say, their doctors don’t believe them. ...

These “long-COVID” cases, as the Mount Sinai center describes them, appear to occur randomly — there’s no demographic category that is more likely than another to be struck.

Patients come in reporting fatigue, shortness of breath and difficulty thinking clearly. In some cases, the symptoms arrived months after the worst of COVID illnesses were over. ...

     Note the part about "their doctors don't believe them." If physicians can't explain the reasons for a patient's symptoms, they tend to dismiss the symptoms as if they were imaginary. A few examples: post-polio syndrome, sero-negative rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, etc. Of course, by now many of these are taken seriously and some were taken seriously all along, such as MS, but there's no good way to tell from medical tests how badly the disease is affecting the sufferer. Social Security has historically just turned down disability claims filed by people with such problems for the most part. I expect the same for claimants with chronic health problems related to Covid-19. I hope the volume is small because I hope that given a little more time most people with these post-Covid-19 symptoms will get better but I'm really expecting a good number of these cases.. We'll see.

Sep 17, 2020

GAO Study Requested


      The Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee plus the Chairman of the Subcommittee having jurisdiction over the SSI program have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to perform a study on service delivery at Social Security during the pandemic.

     That's fine but I'd prefer a hearing.

Sep 16, 2020

Agency Actions After Huntington

      Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a report on Agency Actions After the Huntington Fraud Scheme. This refers to the agency's hearing office in Huntington, WV.  That office has jurisdiction over the area in Kentucky where Eric Conn practiced. The report talks about efforts made to make sure there were no other such schemes. Spoiler alert, there weren't any others. They found some things going on in Ft. Lauderdale and Harrisburg that shouldn't have been going on but those were management issues, not anything criminal. In fact, the bizarrely exceptional nature of what Conn did was one of the reasons the scheme went on as long as it did. No one in management could believe that such a preposterous scheme would be attempted.

     Social Security went well beyond making sure there were no other such schemes. The agency made a deliberate attempt to influence Administrative Law Judge decision. Here are some excerpts from the report concerning those efforts -- footnotes omitted:

... In our FY 2012 report, we identified the 12 ALJs who had the highest allowance rates and the 12 who had the lowest allowance rates. The majority of the staff we interviewed attributed the variance in allowance rates to ALJs’ decisional independence and discretion when interpreting the law, as well as the demographics of the populations in the hearing offices’ service areas. In a FY 2017 we found the majority of the 24 outlier ALJs who had the highest and lowest allowance rates were no longer among the outlier ALJs because they were no longer working at the Agency or their allowance rates changed. ...

 In a November 2014 report, we identified 44 outlier ALJs (about 4 percent of the average number of ALJs available in the Agency) who had 700 or more dispositions and had allowance rates of 85 percent or higher in any 2 FYs between 2007 and 2013. We conducted a sample review of favorable decisions issued by the 44 ALJs and concluded they improperly allowed disability benefits in some cases. SSA took administrative action on 15 of the 44 ALJs. ...

According to SSA, “ . . . [when] identifying outlier ALJs, OHO management (at all levels) use internal [management information] MI reports to review trends in Appeals Council remand rates, hearings held per month, hearings scheduled/hearings held, anomalous rates of favorable/unfavorable dispositions, length of time in certain docket statuses, and whether there has been a focused review for policy compliance."

 When OHO managers identify an outlier ALJ, local hearing office managers may address issues with the ALJ to resolve performance. At any time, the HOCALJ may request support from regional and Headquarters ALJ performance teams for guidance, including receiving support from a Triage Assessment Group. The Group meets bi-weekly to evaluate the facts of each ALJ performance situation, including relevant management information and other documentation. The Group provides guidance for the Regional Chief ALJ and HOCALJ to take action regarding an outlier ALJ. The HOCALJ may assign an ALJ a mentor, require that an ALJ take additional training, or issue directives to correct performance. If the outlier ALJ continues having performance issues, OHO'S Office of Chief ALJ considers further action in consultation with SSA's Office of General Counsel. ...

FY 2011, the Division of Quality began conducting pre-effectuation reviews of randomly selected favorable hearing decisions before SSA made any payments to claimants. ...

 SSA regional office employees conduct in-line quality reviews on a sample of hearing draft decisions to ensure the draft decisions are both policy-compliant and legally sufficient before employees submit the drafts to ALJs for signature. In-line quality review findings allow managers to provide feedback to ALJs when their decision writing instructions affect, contribute to, or cause legal sufficiency, quality, or policy-compliance errors. If hearing office managers begin to see recurring errors, they may determine training is needed for some or all of the hearing office staff and ALJs on those issues. SSA developed the in-line quality review program in 2009. Initially, SSA implemented the program in a limited number of regions because of hiring restrictions. However, in FY 2014, the Agency officially launched the program nationwide. In February 2017, SSA’s Office of the Chief ALJ informed us that the regional in-line quality reviews were temporarily suspended because of other critical work. ...

 One of the CARES initiatives is Updating Decision Writing Tools and Templates, which SSA developed as part of its approach to ensuring policy compliance and national consistency in the tools its employees use to make and prepare draft decisions. Another quality assurance initiative in the CARES plan the Agency-developed is the Insight program. SSA uses Insight to identify policy compliance and internal consistency errors in hearing decisions to improve the consistency and timeliness of the disability adjudication process.45 In response to our April 2019 report,46 SSA developed metrics to conduct an analysis that showed a 31-percent reduction in quality flags for decisions where employees used Insight compared to when they did not. ...

 OHO managers began monitoring national and individual ALJ agree ratesin FY 2011 to assess the level of policy-compliant, legally sufficient decisions. However, it did not set a goal until FY 2013 when OHO management established an 85-percent quality expectation goal for decisions and a 65-percent goal for dismissals.47 The decision agree rate represents the extent to which the Appeals Council concludes the ALJ decisions were supported by substantial evidence and contained no error of law or abuse that would justify a remand or reversal. ALJs who have below average agree rates may receive additional training, mentoring, and counseling and, in some cases, may be subject to further review. ... [footnotes omitted]

     I know that some of this was directed at reducing the number of technical mistakes made and that's a good thing. However, it's been obvious that the whole process has been strongly tilted towards reviewing the decisions of ALJs who approve more claims than most. ALJs who approve only very few claims have drawn little or no attention. I'm not sure that the agency has even tried hard to reduce the number of technical mistakes. To give an example, if a claimant fails to appear for the hearing (in normal times) but the attorney does, the ALJ has some options but dismissing the request for hearing isn't one of them. However, ALJs commonly do dismiss in this situation. The Appeals Council will quickly remand these cases but they shouldn't happen. The regulations are clear. How much attention has Social Security paid to preventing mistakes like this? Not much that I can tell but they've sure succeeded in convincing ALJs that something bad will happen to them if they approve too many claims.


Sep 15, 2020

Will It Hold Up On Appeal?

      From The Advocate:

A federal court ruled Friday that the Social Security Administration’s blanket denial of Social Security survivor’s benefits to same-sex spouses who were prevented from marrying is unconstitutional.

The ruling came in the case of Helen Thornton, a resident of Washington State who sought to claim survivor’s benefits based on her 27-year relationship with Marge Brown, who died in 2006, six years before same-sex couples in the state had the right to marry. Brown had a more extensive work record than Thornton, who supplements her own modest Social Security income by taking care of animals, notes a press release from Lambda Legal, which represented Thornton along with attorneys from the firm of Nossaman LLP.

Thornton applied for the benefits in 2015, shortly before she would have been eligible to receive them at age 60. But the SSA turned her down because she and Brown had not been legally married, even though state law prevented them from marrying. She filed suit in 2018 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

On Friday, a judge in that court, James L. Robart, ruled that denial of the benefits violated the U.S. Constitution. He also certified the case as a national class action, meaning others who have sought the benefits and been denied simply because they were unable to marry their partner will have an avenue to claim them. ...


Sep 14, 2020

Caseloads Continue To Dwindle -- For Now

      This was obtained from Social Security by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and published in its newsletter, which is not available online to non-members. It is basic operating statistics for Social Security's Office of Hearings Operations. Click on the image to view full size.

     By the way, obviously backlogs continue to dwindle but what happens when the Covid-19 pandemic ends? We all hope that's coming early next year as a result of a vaccine. Is there a backlog of claims that people have deferred filing because of office closures? We know that backlogs have increased at the initial and reconsideration levels. How much will receipts increase at OHO as that backlog is worked down? For that matter, will it be worked down? Will a possible change of Presidential Administrations matter? Will there be many new claims as a result of chronic health problems caused by Covid-19 itself? I don't know the answers to these questions but one way or another the circumstances we see at the moment won't last. There's a very real chance that there will be a dramatic increase in new requests for hearing next year. Work down that backlog while you can.


 

Sep 13, 2020

I Haven't Seen This One Before

      From a press release:

A Las Vegas resident pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to fraudulently obtaining nearly $1.2 million in Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits, announced U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich for the District of Nevada. ...

According to court documents, Montano [the defendant] — who was the branch manager of a bank in Las Vegas — received information about two accounts with large balances and no activity:

  • The first account (Account A) was held by a Las Vegas resident who was receiving SSA retirement benefits. The individual passed away in February 1997. The SSA was not notified about the individual’s death, and benefits continued to be paid into the account.
  • The second account (Account B) was held by a Las Vegas resident who was receiving both SSA retirement benefits and VA benefits. The individual passed away in June 2011. Neither the SSA nor the VA was notified about the individual’s death, and benefits continued to accumulate in the account.
  •  Through a bank computer, Montano ordered debit cards for both accounts, using them to withdraw cash — which he either spent or deposited into his personal bank account — and to make purchases for his personal use and benefit. In addition, Montano ordered and wrote checks (for his personal use) for Account B. Montano also used his authority as a branch manager to authorize a $35,000 cashier’s check from Account B. He then used the funds to buy a luxury car, which he has agreed to forfeit to the United States. 
  • In total, between August 2015 and June 2020, Montano fraudulently obtained: (a) approximately $436,686.80 in SSA benefits to which he was not entitled; and (b) approximately $757,985.88 in VA benefits to which he was not entitled. ...

Sep 12, 2020

Social Security's Chief Actuary Responds To Concerns Of GOP Senators

      Some Democratic Senators asked Social Security's Chief Actuary what the effect would be upon the Social Security Trust Funds if the President's proposal to end the F.I.C.A. tax that supports the Trust Funds is ended, without any replacement. Trump didn't say that this would be without a replacement but he didn't specify a replacement. The response, of course, is that the Trust Funds would quickly run out of money and be unable to pay benefits. The Chief Actuary's response has now appeared in campaign ads.

     Some Republican Senators took offense at this and sent the Chief Actuary a letter complaining about his letter. I'd say they should blame the President for making a bone-headed proposal that would inevitably sound foolish in a TV ad. Responding to Congressional inquiries is part of the Chief Actuary's job. He can't very well say "I'm not going to answer your question because the answer would make the President sound foolish and irresponsible and I don't think he meant to sound that way."

     The Chief Actuary has now responded. Here's part of the final paragraph of the letter:

... While it is never desirable for the Office of the Chief Actuary to engage in matters with political implications, it appears that this is unavoidable to a degree, as long as we are asked to provide objective and factual answers to questions posed by members of Congress. Our answers have always been as direct and objective as possible, and we regret that even clear answers may be taken out of context or used for purposes other than intended. ...